If you haven’t already heard, HMD Nokia’s new phone stole the show at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Importantly, Nokia didn’t take the crown by out-clashing the other smartphone titans in the crowded arena of ever-so-slightly-more-whelming camera specs, 5G network speeds, or process nodes. And they didn’t rely on an appeal to nostalgia or viral memedom.
Instead, Nokia managed to grab the spotlight at the year’s biggest mobile trade show with a €179 smartphone and a modest but forward-looking claim: this phone will be easier for you, the user, to repair.
That phone is the Nokia G22, and for anyone who wanted to test Nokia’s claims, iFixit was there, too—sharing Nokia’s booth, handing out tools, and inviting journalists and other attendees to take the phone apart for themselves, live, with Nokia’s blessing. Thanks to our partnership with Nokia, iFixit will offer officially sanctioned repair guides and replacement parts for the G22 and, we hope, even more repairable Nokia handsets to come.
But after an initial outpouring of praise—with outlets from The Verge to USA Today touting Nokia’s repairability commitments as a highlight of the show—a bit of good old-fashioned skepticism crept in. Parts and instructions are great, but is this phone’s design really that different? Ars Technica’s Ron Amadeo, for one, was unconvinced: “HMD’s ‘repairable’ phone just seems like a normal cheap phone design with a parts store and a novel sales pitch,” he reported. “If you look at a teardown of the phone this is replacing, the G21, the only change made to the G22 that makes it worthy of the new ‘repairable’ sales pitch is the change from a glued-on back to plastic tabs.” And, “It seems like there has been a lot more effort given to the repairability marketing rather than the repairability of the actual phone.”
To the Rons of the world: we can relate. Talk is cheap. Many of us have learned, through hard experience and disappointment, to regard claims of repairable this or sustainable that with a wary eye. It’s no fun being a skeptic, but if you’re a tech journalist (or a teardowner), it’s part of the job.
What is fun is taking stuff apart. It’s also a pretty quick way to gauge if something is actually repairable, or merely marketed as such. So if you missed the opportunity to do that at Nokia’s booth in Barcelona—understandable—allow us to share some highlights. In addition, after MWC wrapped, our engineering team independently ran the G22 through the iFixit smartphone repairability scoring rubric to see how it fares and compares.
First Things First: Documentation and Parts
Before taking anything apart, the first step in our scoring process is to check whether the manufacturer even supports your efforts with the necessary instructions and parts to make the whole endeavor worthwhile. Repairability is more than just design. And here Nokia already notched some early victories, having worked with iFixit to develop guides and offer replacement parts for four of the most common repairs—battery, display, charge port, and back cover.
Ideally, we’d like to see even more DIY repairs supported in the future, for every critical component in the phone. There’s still room to improve this aspect of the score. But we’ve been very encouraged by the commitment from the Nokia team on DIY repair. (We’ve even spotted someone from Nokia popping into the guide comments to leave helpful tips.)
Maybe the most unique thing about the G22 is that the phone’s design has already improved since launch—the phone we took apart at MWC was not the same phone currently rolling off the production line. That might be a first. But, we’ll come back to that.
The first and most critical step for any smartphone repair is simply getting inside without breaking anything. That has an outsized impact on the repairability score, since it affects every single downstream procedure. Nokia didn’t do anything fancy here, because they didn’t need to: a few well-placed pokes with an opening pick is enough to free the back cover clips and expose the G22’s internals. Because it doesn’t rely on adhesives to hold it together, you can disassemble and reassemble it repeatedly without any mess to clean up or fussy custom-cut single-use adhesive sheets to apply (and probably goof up on your first try, and discard, and try again, and clamp, bond, etc.).
Nokia addressed the first and most important choke point for repairs. Even if you only make a single change to a smartphone design in the name of repairability, this is probably the best place to target your efforts. And while it might seem small, it’s a bigger lift than you might imagine. When we asked Nokia about it, they said, “We are very proud of the back cover and the way it is structured. The snap-off back covers are often seen as low-end and not premium. Our design team worked hard to get the frame and back cover visually separated but still fused together. This is quite a structural part of the device and includes a little slot under the SIM tray to start the removal process.” In short, there are a lot of priorities to juggle here, and we’re thrilled that at Nokia, repair is now one of those priorities.
Battery—A Swing and a Miss, But Then Another Swing
You might be puzzled to learn that (a) tech journalists at MWC reported being able to swap out the G22’s battery on the show floor in as little as 7 minutes, and (b) we at iFixit weren’t too happy with the battery repair experience.
It turns out that, while it’s technically possible to access the battery pretty quickly, we found the adhesive underneath to be frustratingly stubborn on our fresh, unopened teardown unit. A helpful pull tab is supplied, but even with a good grip and a strong arm, dislodging the battery required an uncomfortable amount of force. We’ve done enough usability testing over the years to know that this sort of thing can quickly cause frustration and/or impatience on the part of DIYers. Bad things can happen.
Ever cautious, we wrote a battery replacement guide with a “time required” estimate of up to an hour—fully expecting that most people will probably finish way sooner than that, but we didn’t want anybody trying to do this in a hurry. Better to carve out plenty of time and then pat yourself on the back if you manage to do it in 7 minutes, we reasoned, than go in expecting a 7-minute cakewalk and end up frustrated and rushed.
To their enormous credit—we’re still a bit gobsmacked by this—Nokia took that feedback and quickly ordered a mid-production change on the G22 with a revised pull tab design and less stubborn adhesive. Mid-production changes are unusual and costly, and this more than anything reassured us that Nokia takes its commitment to repairability seriously. “In hindsight,” they told us, “decreasing the amount of glue and making sure the tab was tough enough to pull the battery out, therefore making it easier to remove the battery, was the right decision … We knew it was hindering the customer experience and made the decision it had to be done.”
Let’s Talk Screen Repairs
Folks who took a stab at screen repairs on the G22 noted that, while the process itself isn’t too daunting, the screen could be better prioritized. You don’t replace the G22’s screen so much as take the phone apart until only the screen remains, and then rebuild it with a new one. This is a fairly common smartphone architecture, where there has long been a forced tradeoff between a back-cover point of entry (usually great if you’re doing anything besides a screen repair) vs. a screen-first entry (great for screen repairs, but potentially worrying if a perfectly good screen gets in harm’s way during other routine repairs).
With the G22, Nokia hasn’t managed to innovate their way out of this particular design conundrum, and the relatively unoptimized path to the display does cost some points on our repairability scale. This is an area where we’d like to challenge Nokia (and other OEMs) to do better. Fortunately, we can say that the screen repair procedure is straightforward enough that it’s still very do-able; Nokia managed to not create any huge unnecessary hurdles here. In practice, we’re seeing people pull off their screen repair in a little over half an hour.
“We changed quite a number of things on the prototypes, focusing on making the phone easier to fix,” Nokia told us. “We did a lot of disassembly and got feedback on the devices for issues on the user side. We are continually working on feedback to make it as easy as possible to fix the device yourself.” That’s encouraging to hear, and while we don’t think Nokia’s work is done, we’re excited to see what they come up with next.
Overall, the Nokia G22 nets an 8/10 on our smartphone repairability scale, buoyed by its parts and guides offerings and clocking in with a very respectable (if not perfect) score for its design. If you’d like a refresher on exactly what that means, check out our scoring explainer—but the TL;DR is, this is a strong showing from Nokia, and they seem committed to further improvements.
Although it’s not currently part of the score, one improvement we’d like to see is increased duration of software support. This is a challenge facing all Android OEMs, and Nokia is not alone in that. But as some critics have noted, even with a solid offering of parts and repair guides, it’s questionable how helpful any repair is in the years after software support dries up.
Since Nokia kept answering our questions, we pressed them for a little more. After their experience with the G22 launch, what’s next? “We’ve found that there are two main areas of challenge when it comes to driving repair of mobile devices,” they said. “The first is perhaps the more obvious one, making it possible and ever easier for the devices to be repaired and to extend their life cycles. But the second equally important element is driving the change in user behaviour. To make people want to repair and keep their phones, we have to make the experience of repairing more compelling than switching to a new one. So for our future devices, we are looking to both improve the ease of repairability, but also the experience of repairing your phone.”
Now that is something we’d love to see.